Make us your home page

Sue Carlton, Times Columnist

Sue Carlton

Sue Carlton is a native Floridian from a longtime Southern family that her father always said consisted of thieves and cattle rustlers run out of Georgia. She grew up in Miami and joined the Tampa Bay Times in 1988. Over the years she has covered community news, politics, cops, government, and her all-time favorite, criminal courts. For nearly nine years she wrote about the kind of strange cases that only seem to happen here, about intriguing legal issues and courthouse politics. On that beat, she authored a lengthy narrative series on a trooper who killed his wife and co-authored a series on a suburban mother murdered by her teenage daughter and her friends. Sue was the deputy editor of the features section and was the Tampa city editor before she became a columnist in 2005. Three times a week, she writes about politics, outrages, observations, court cases of the day and whatever else comes up. She lives in Tampa with her husband and their very good dog.

Phone: (813) 226-3376 or toll-free 1-800-333-7505, ext. 3376


  1. Another reason to love the library: No more fees for overdue books!


    TAMPA — Here's an early Christmas present for you literary scofflaws who tend to hang on to those borrowed best sellers a little too long:

    As of Jan. 1, 2018, the Hillsborough County Public Library system will no longer charge late fines on overdue materials.

    (Sorry, you'll still owe any fines incurred before the new year.)

    The new policy extends the grace period from seven to eight days. After that, a borrower won't be allowed to check out any more materials or use the library's Overdrive, Hoopla, Freading RB Digital or services....

  2. Peanut butter and loneliness: Leaving the dog in the morning


    The dog does not want me to go. This is a given.

    This is our weekday morning ritual. I down caffeine and check the paper standing up in the kitchen with a bowl of cereal in my hand and TV news in the background. He digs busily through his toy bin, ignoring the gutted stuffed duck, the tattered anteater and the eyeless wiener dog until he finds his prize: a slobbery tennis ball.

    In the shower, I hear this outside the door: the dog dropping the ball on the wood floor, thump thump thump as it bounces, the dog picking it up and dropping it again, thump thump thump. The invitation is clear:...

  3. Homeless Jesus remembers those who die living on the streets


    Tampa has a mix of outside art for everyone, rich, poor and otherwise. There's the well-known massive metal sculpture snarkily nicknamed The Exploding Chicken near the Florida Aquarium, the downtown bridges that light up softly in multiple colors, and the bright fiberglass fish that hang along Bayshore Boulevard.

    But one of the most provocative and arresting pieces of outside art sits in front of a coffee shop and community space called Portico, the downtown Tampa campus of Hyde Park United Methodist Church. Homeless Jesus, it's called — a full-size sculpture of a man lying on a bench huddled beneath a blanket. Only his bare feet are exposed. On them you can see wounds left by nails....

    The Homeless Jesus statue outside the Portico in downtown Tampa is a  reminder of the city's population of at least 1,500 homeless.Next week, the ones who died will be honored here. SKIP O'ROURKE  | Times
  4. Sue Carlton: Who will take up where Jan Platt left off? Anyone? Anyone?


    Here is a classic Jan Platt moment: In the 1990s, she ran for mayor against Tampa icon Dick Greco. But the day before election day — prime sign-waving time on city street corners — she had jury duty.

    So did she try to get out of it? To postpone it? If you don't know the answer, you didn't know Jan Platt.

    While candidates were out last-minute glad-handing, she sat in the courthouse with her purse primly on her lap. Jury duty, she said, was her civic responsibility. She had never asked to be excused before and she certainly didn't intend to now....

    An environmentalist, Jan Platt loved to fish. Here she is at Tampa’s Ballast Point Park pier in 1994.
  5. Sue Carlton: On judges, guns and impartiality


    Life is good when you're a judge.

    You go to law school, become an attorney and attain a position so prestigious people call you "your honor." You sit on the bench and ponder intriguing nuances of the law. You make rulings that, no exaggeration, change lives.

    There's also that nifty gavel and the nice robe.

    But with this prestige comes a price. And it's that you're generally not supposed to wear your politics on the sleeve of that robe....

    1st District Court of Appeal Judge L. Clayton Roberts  [Florida 1st District Court of Appeal]
  6. Sue Carlton: The president, the players and the one about free speech


    Here is the remarkable thing about the president's recent and ongoing harangue against professional football players who kneel during the national anthem instead of standing, a form of peaceful protest:

    There may be no person in the free world who has benefitted more from the right to say what he wants — no matter how controversial, no matter how offensive — than Donald Trump....

    Members of the Indianapolis Colts take a knee during the Nation Anthem.  . SOURCE: AP
  7. Sue Carlton: Job or family when a hurricane's coming — a very Florida conundrum


    It must seem as foreign to Northerners as shoveling snow is to those of us raised in the Sunshine State: The very-Florida conundrum of having to choose between work and family — between paycheck and personal safety — when a hurricane comes.

    This week brought news that four city of Largo employees got canned or resigned after opting to be with loved ones during Hurricane Irma when they were expected to work....

    A hurricane helps the rest of us acknowledge the police officers, paramedics, hospital personnel, public works employees and others who stay on the job despite the storm. 
  8. Carlton: The cross atop the church that moved, and other strange tales from Hurricane Irma


    Down in Miami, the famous tan-don't-burn Coppertone Girl on the side of a building lost her head — part of it, at least, the top of her blond hair lopped off in the fierce winds of Hurricane Irma. ("At least her tan line and doggie weathered the storm," the Miami Herald noted optimistically.)

    In Key West, Irma hit so hard that she blasted the paint right off the Southernmost marker where surely a billion tourists have posed for pictures....

    The cross on top of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Hyde Park in Tampa faced west before Hurricane Irma. Now it faces south.
  9. Sue Carlton: But Lee (formerly Robert E.) Elementary was supposed to keep evolving . . .


    The morning after one of the most beautiful buildings in Tampa went up in flames, people gathered around it in disbelief — teachers, parents and neighbors who unabashedly love Lee Elementary School.

    Some of them cried at the sight of it: This historic and stately red brick building with its white pillars, gleaming wood floors and the kind of windows they don't even make anymore, sprawled along a hardscrabble stretch of Columbus Drive in one of the city's oldest neighborhoods....

    A teacher from Lee Elementary School, which burned this week, holding up an inspirational poster that one of the firefighters brought her from inside the school. The teacher is unidentified. [Photo by Sue Carlton]
  10. Sue Carlton: At a Tampa cafe, hurricane recovery for the homeless and hungry


    As volunteers dished up corn flakes and egg-ham-and-cheese sandwiches for breakfast at Trinity Cafe the morning before the hurricane hit, the question broke their hearts a little.

    People asked if the cafe might spare a few trash bags. If I can't get into a shelter, they said — and they were filling up fast — at least I can try to stay dry out there tonight.

    Slowly, those of us firmly on the grid inch toward post-Irma normal — neat bags of branches stacked at our curbsides, chain saws buzzing, power restored. At Trinity, a nondescript building at the edge of downtown Tampa where they serve hot meals to the homeless and hungry, life is getting there, too....

    People wait for Trinity Cafe to open its doors Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017, in Tampa, Fla. The cafe, located at 2801 N Nebraska Ave., offers free meals prepared by professional chefs to homeless and needy people, who are served at the table by volunteers. The cafe stayed open throughout the weekend during Hurricane Irma. 

  11. Promising 'Stupit Prices,' liquor store re-opens after Irma


    Dewey's Liquors, promising Stupit Prices on its sign on Tampa's Busch Boulevard, had disappointed dozens the day before who pulled into the parking lot thinking it was open as Hurricane Irma loomed. It wasn't. But Dewey's was open early Monday morning after the storm had departed — with spraypainted signs that said CASH ONLY and WE R ARMED, in case anyone planned lawlessness.

    "We just bunkered down and listened to the wind howl," said Roshad Griffin, who was picking up cocktail supplies for later that day. "I was hoping for the better and it pretty much seems like we dodged a big bullet." His plans for the day after the storm: to "just chill."...

    Dewey's Liquors on Busch Blvd in Tampa. (Sue Carlton |  Times)
  12. Carlton: Hurricanes like what's-her-face: the price we pay for paradise.


    We live in Florida, and we are lucky. These are facts, even given what Irma just put us through.

    Think about it: For every late-night TV snark with a Florida punch line, there are platoons of people who flock here from all over for what we have. Joke about Florida and talk to me in January when you're slipping in the snow.

    Still, it is also true that when you live in Florida, you will inevitably experience things beyond what the tourist ads promise, beyond sun-soaked sugar-sand days, magical Disney trips and Margaritaville nights....

    Instead of sheltering in place, a handful of people crowded around to watch CNN’s Anderson Cooper interview U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson on the Tampa Riverwalk on Sunday afternoon.
  13. Carlton: Getting real on Irma


    The waiting is the hardest part.

    — Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

    Okay, technically, for us the hardest part is still to come — the torrential rains and brutal winds and whatever happens wherever it decides to happen. But right about now around here, we get Mr. Petty's point.

    These are strange days, waiting for Irma.

    We've already seen the destruction this monster is capable of. And we've spent all week willing those hateful tracking maps to show it pushing east into the Atlantic — away from Florida, away from us. No such luck....

    Tampa Bay spent a tense week preparing for what Hurricane Irma could bring. Now we wait.
  14. Carlton: Hurricane Irma check list: bottled water, Beefaroni and try not to panic


    The soup shelves at Publix — those usually reassuring rows of chicken noodle and beef barley — are decimated, picked over, plowed through. Dregs are left — the low-sodium, the weird creamy vegetable.

    And something as ever-present as bottled water? Ha.

    It is the Wednesday morning before Irma, the most powerful Atlantic hurricane in recorded history, churning below our state and knocking at our door. I pull into a Hillsborough Avenue Publix before sunrise, before the store opens even, only to find a 10-deep line of anxious people already stationed behind shopping carts outside....

    Customers looking for bottled water to stock up for Hurricane Irma lined up before opening time outside the Publix supermarket on W Hillsborough Ave Wednesday..[SUE CARLTON   |   Times]
  15. Carlton: People ponied up to move the Confederate statue. Now, how do we spend the extra money?


    So what do you do with more than 30 grand in goodwill from your friends and neighbors, the happy result of citizens doing the job of their elected officials?

    In our own messy contribution to a conversation going on across America, Hillsborough County commissioners last month tied themselves in knots over moving a divisive Confederate soldier monument from outside a public courthouse to a private family cemetery where it would be welcomed....

    Citizens turned out in droves for emotional debate over moving a Confederate monument from the old Hillsborough County courthouse to a private family cemetery. The question now: what to do with the excess private money raised in a single day to help pay for the move. CHARLIE KAIJO |   Times